THE ESSENTIALS OF COPPER
Your Body’s Protective and Anti-Aging Metal
At the dawn of the copper age, (5500 to 3000 B.C.), ancients had a love affair with this lustrous metal. Copper, an excellent conductor of heat, was thought to stimulate a warm flow of healing energy.
Used throughout, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Asia, ancients created copper crowns, ceremonial vessels, bejeweled tools and ornate décor.
As one of the oldest metals used and cherished by humans, many referred to copper as the metal of healing and the metal of love.
Our ancestors had keen insight. As the adage states, ‘they were right on the money’ or perhaps we might say ‘right on the copper coin’.
In Greek mythology, copper is the metal of Venus and the Goddess of Love.
Throughout this book, we have explored how copper turns back the clock to a beautiful complexion and healthy body.
When we look and feel our best, Aphrodite may indeed be just around the corner making it easy to attract love.
Quite often, modern scientists toil for decades only to discover something that our ancestors knew all along from observation and keen intuition. Even after the essential discovery is made, it may take years before the official health guidelines catch up with the scientific research. It is because of this that copper, an absolutely essential element for human health, has only recently started to attract the attention of nutrition gurus. Still today, not many people know that they are at risk of copper deficiency which may put them in danger of many illnesses, not to mention accelerated aging of skin and hair.
The slow process of recognizing the importance of copper was best highlighted by Dr. Leslie Klevay in his paper published in 1996 [“Deliberations and evaluations of the approaches, endpoints and paradigms for dietary recommendations about copper”, Klevay & Medeiros 1996]. He reviewed the last 10 editions of the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) guidelines and observed that in the 1943 edition the recommended daily amount of copper was estimated at 1-2 mg/day, and in a 1958 edition (15 years later), it was stated that “2 mg/day will maintain adults in balance”.
In the same 1958 edition, he found a statement that mentioned “a typical diet” usually supplies 2-5 mg of copper a day, and that the deficiency of this metal is very rare. However, in the 1989 edition, we see a reference to the National Food Consumption survey conducted in 1987-1988, according to which an average intake of copper was 1.2 mg/day for males and only 0.9 mg/day for females—a statistic well below the recommended 2mg/day. In this same edition it was also stated that copper intake as high as 3 mg/day may be necessary to maintain good health. The current RDI (Recommended Dietary Intake established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) for copper is 2 mg/day.
Another reference that should be considered is the estimated safe and adequate daily dietary intakes or ESADDI (Natural Research Council, 1989) which recommends a daily intake of 1.5-3 mg of copper. Recently, U.S. dietary guidelines underwent another major revision and RDAs were replaced by The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, 1997-2001. The World Health Organization gives 10 mg/day as the tolerable upper limit of copper intake.
Out of the blue, the recommended intake of copper was set up as 0.9 mg/day —a number that is clearly not enough to assure adequate copper intake! For example, a paper published in 2010 by Chambers et al studied the effects of copper deficiency and excess. This study came to the conclusion that to prevent copper deficiency optimum intake for copper should be 2.6 mg/day (which is well below the level where any adverse effects can be seen).
The sudden drop in the recommended intake of copper is more interesting when you take into consideration that estimated daily loss of copper is about 1.3 mg/day. This is one of the reasons why it is so dangerous to lower copper consumption below 2 mg/day (Williams 1983). Active males should also be aware that additional daily loss of copper due to sweating may be as high as 0.34 mg/day ( Jacob 1981).
But is copper really that important and worth such an in depth discussion? Absolutely! In fact, copper deficiency may be a leading cause of many so-called “diseases of civilizations” that currently plague the population in the United States. Furthermore it may also be the main reason why our skin and hair lose their health and vitality as we age.
Since copper peptides of course contain copper, many ask about the function of copper within the body. As they learn about how copper works and experience its benefits, they also want to know about its safety.
Copper is an essential metal necessary for many processes in the human body. A deficiency in copper can contribute to a host of health problems, including a higher rate of: cellular oxidation, cancer, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, LDL “bad cholesterol”, lipid oxidation, aortic aneurysms, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, chronic conditions involving bone and connective tissue, brain defects in newborns, obesity, graying of hair, sensitivity to pain, Alzheimer’s disease, reproductive problems, depression, and fatigue; as well as lowering HDL “good cholesterol”, reduction in the pleasure producing brain enkephalins, and impaired brain function.
COPPER — There is Nothing Like It
The first evidence for the essential role copper plays in the human body was obtained in 1928. When rats were kept on an iron-free milk diet, they developed severe anemia. Surprisingly, iron supplementation alone couldn’t reverse this condition. It turned out that not only iron, but also copper deficiency, contributed to the observed symptoms of anemia. Since then copper/iron supplements have been used to correct anemia in malnourished infants (Hart et al 2002).
In Australia, farmers were long puzzled by an array of problems that sheep and cattle (brought from the mainland) had been experiencing after grazing on indigenous soil. Poor wool quality in sheep, neurological problems (swayback) in newborn lambs and aorta ruptures in cattle drove farmers crazy until it was discovered that the indigenous soil had very little copper. As soon as livestock began taking copper supplements, the mysterious diseases became a thing of the past (Harris 2003).
Today, we know that copper is absolutely essential for life. No other metal can replace it. Fortunately, severe deficiency of this metal is rare and is observed mostly in experiments of animals kept on copper-free diets. We are lucky that most of our foods contain at least some copper. However, even marginal copper deficiency can be dangerous and have long term consequences.
For example, when pregnant rats were kept on a marginally copper-deficient diet, their copper indexes were often within norm, and yet their offspring were born with marked differences in their immune status. What’s more, those rats developed copper deficiency in the brain (which could not be reversed by copper supplementation). Young rats with copper deficient brains exhibited altered behavior and neurological characteristics (Prohaska & Hoffman 1996).
So why does our body need copper? To answer this question we need to talk about an important kind of biological molecule called enzymes.
Copper and The Chemical Balance in Our Body
Our bodies are constantly transforming chemical substances into other substances, using and releasing energy, breaking down and building biological compounds over and over again. Our well-being completely depends on the delicate chemical balance within our cells. The same principle holds true for our beauty.
For example, production of the most important proteins in our skin (collagen and elastin) occurs through a series of precisely balanced chemical reactions. The majority of chemical reactions in our cells cannot occur spontaneously under normal physiological conditions. If this wasn’t the case there would be no order, no organization, no harmony. So in order to maintain this balance and order within the cells, our body uses special molecules that carefully guide every substance through its precise chemical transformation process. Such molecular organizers are called enzymes.
There is a special enzyme for each and every biological reaction. Many of them are not active by themselves but require metal ions in order to function. More than a dozen important enzymes (cuproenzymes) require copper (Camakaris et al 1999). Some of them are listed in the table on the following page.
Later in this chapter we will discuss copper’s role in skin health. But for now it should be clear that copper deficiency (even if it is slight) can have serious consequences for our organisms. Should we really be concerned about this? Yes, we should.
Are You At Risk?
Copper—this precious metal essential for maintaining the chemical balance within our cells, enters our bodies with food and water. The richest sources of copper are red wine, chocolate, cocoa, legumes, nuts (especially Brazilian nuts), seaweed, oysters and other shellfish, fish, liver and organ meats, well water in certain regions (depending on copper content in soil) or soft, acidic water that has passed through copper pipes.
At the same time, some dietary and lifestyle factors can prevent our organism from obtaining enough copper either by increasing its excretion or by lowering its absorption. Some of those factors can also exacerbate symptoms of copper deficiency. Sadly, all of these factors are present in the typical American diet.
First of all, copper levels may be lower in people who routinely consume too much zinc (this is due to zinc interfering with copper absorption) (Klevay 2001). The most dramatic example of copper deficiency in primates caused by excessive zinc is the “white monkey syndrome” that develops in infant monkeys kept in galvanized cages. It manifests itself by elevated zinc, low copper, loss of pigment in skin and hair (hence the name “white monkey syndrome”), immune deficiency, alopecia, severe dermatitis and other problems (Frost et al 2004). Since monkeys are our closest animal relatives, we should pay close attention to this example.
Most people are aware of the importance of zinc. Of course, commercial food manufacturers use this knowledge to increase sales—almost all processed food products in the United States are generously fortified with zinc and iron. In addition, all vitamin/ mineral complexes contain zinc and iron. As a result, people who consume large amounts of processed foods and regularly take vitamin/mineral supplements may actually get too much iron and zinc, thereby putting themselves at risk of copper deficiency.
Many Americans prefer meat over all other protein sources. However, meats (with the exception of organ meats) are rich in zinc but low in copper. So those who consume muscle meat as opposed to organ meat and who do not consume enough legumes and seafood, may also develop copper deficiency. In one experiment, rats were fed a red meat based diet and had 23% lower bone density compared to the control animals. It is a known fact that osteoporosis is one of the common consequences of low copper (Klevay & Wildman 2002).
Another factor that can lower copper is the high consumption of fructose, sucrose and other refined sugars (Klevay 2010). If you have a sweet tooth or regularly consume soda that is usually high on sugar, you may need more copper in your diet!
Finally, many Americans today drink bottled water or soda instead of natural well or spring water, thus cutting themselves from another source of dietary copper. The long-lived people who reside high in mountain valleys about 2000 meters above sea level enjoy copper-rich water from natural glaciers. They are living testaments to the health benefits of copper. Cultures in the Hunza region of the Hindu Kush, the Vilcabamba valley of Ecuador, the Caucasus mountains of Georgia, Northwest Tibet, and Lake Titicaca of the Peruvian Andes all have diverse diets but drink the same hard water from ‘icy blue’ glaciers, which contains an exceptionally high mineral content. In all of these regions, the lifespan and health of the elderly is extraordinary with many centenarians. In contrast, regions with soft water that is low in minerals experience high rates of cancer and heart disease. In the past, physicians would send their patients to sanatoriums where they drank mineral water and also bathed in it.
The popularity of bariatric surgery as a fast means to eliminate obesity also puts many people at risk of copper deficiency, since it lowers copper absorption in the intestine (Ernst et al 2009).
Does Your Diet Contain Adequate Copper?
Vegetarians have higher levels of copper in their diets than non-vegetarians. In a controlled study using females (USDA Nutrition Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota), it was found that lacto-ovo vegetarians took in 1.45 milligrams of copper daily of which 33% was taken into the body (0.48 milligrams). In contrast, the non- vegetarians took in 0.94 milligrams of copper daily of which 42% was taken into the body for an intake of 0.39 milligrams daily (Hunt & Vanderpool 2001).
In addition, you should worry about copper deficiency if you have had gastric bypass, malabsorption syndrome, celiac disease or if you are pregnant or lactating.
The majority of the data on the symptoms of severe copper deficiency came from animal studies, studies in malnourished children or studies on the rare genetic abnormality of Menkel syndrome. Recently, scientists began to pay attention to signs and consequences of marginal copper deficiency as well.
The main sign of severe copper deficiency in animals and humans is anemia that is unresponsive to iron therapy and is accompanied by severe abnormalities in bone marrow. Other symptoms include low white cell count in blood, increased incidence of infections, impaired growth and low weight in infants, bone abnormalities (fractures of long bones and ribs, osteoporosis, spur formation, formation of bone tissue outside of bones), impaired collagen synthesis, impaired melanin synthesis, hypotonia, and heart problems (including heart failure) (Elsherif et al 2003, Cartwright & Wintrobe 1964). These symptoms coincide with low levels of copper in plasma and are reversed by copper supplementation (Uauy et al 1998).
Fortunately, such prominent symptoms are rare. However, many people can have a borderline copper deficiency. Today, insufficient copper is thought to contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, elevated level of total cholesterol and in particular “bad cholesterol”, neuro-degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson diseases, accelerated skin and hair aging, low immune status, impaired antioxidant defense, diabetes and osteoporosis.
Copper Deficiency Can Harm Your Skin
Collagen, as you all well know, is a protein that maintains the suppleness, firmness and resilience of your skin. Faulty collagen leads to wrinkles, sagging and loose skin. There is no other way to remove wrinkles and tighten skin except through the stimulation and restoration of collagen synthesis.
In order to do this, we need special enzymes that build collagen. One of those enzymes is lysyl oxidase—an enzyme that absolutely depends on copper. Animals deficient in copper show multiple connective tissue abnormalities, including rupture and aneurism of major blood vessels due to defective collagen.
But could the copper in lysyl oxidase be replaced with another similar mineral? It turns out that nothing can replace copper. Researchers have tried to supplement lysyl oxidase with ions of cadmium, iron, zinc, magnesium and cobalt, but failed to restore enzyme activity. Therefore, if your diet does not contain enough copper, you need to deliver it to your skin.
Without adequate copper no other means of stimulating collagen synthesis
(no expensive cosmetic procedure or advanced topical product) can restore your collagen (Gacheru et al 1990).
Another risk factor that results from copper deficiency is skin aging due to glycation of skin proteins, a reaction that we’ve discussed in other sections of this website.
Furthermore, it is known that copper deficiency results in hyperglycemia, which leads to enhanced glycosylation of proteins. Increased peroxidation and glycation are the most likely causes of general damage associated with copper deficiency. It has been demonstrated that some effects of severe copper deficiency in rats, such as cardiac enlargement and anemia, can be reduced by treatment with anti-glycosylation agents. On the contrary, consumption of a sucrose rich diet with starch exacerbates the symptoms of copper deficiency.
Food restriction that reduces peroxidation and glycation also reduces symptoms of copper deficiency (Saari et al 1995).
Another reason why insufficient copper can speed up skin aging is decreased function of SOD—a major antioxidant enzyme that requires copper in order to be active. It has now been established that copper is required not only for this enzyme to be functionally active, but also for activation of the genes necessary for SOD synthesis (Itoh et al 2009).
Faulty collagen and increased protein damage due to glycation and peroxidation would be enough to make a significant impact on your complexion, but there is much more! Copper deficiency has such a widespread deleterious influence on our bodies that our beauty may suffer painful punches from numerous directions.
For example, how would you feel about a disruption of your immune functions and increase of inflammation? It can affect your joints and heart while it also impacts your skin. Cardiac problems are strongly associated with copper deficiency and decreased circulation is not good for your skin nor for your whole body. In addition, low copper can lead to numerous neurological problems affecting nerve growth and production of important neuromediators.
So what should this mean to you personally? Well, if you do not consume enough copper rich foods and do not take copper supplements and indulge in sweets and soda, your skin may be at risk of accelerated aging associated with protein glycation. Glycation can make your skin protein stiff and brittle, contributing to wrinkles and other signs of aging. As you restore your internal copper supply, it is very important to use copper peptide products on your skin.
THE TWO FORMS OF COPPER
Have you ever wondered why copper peptide cosmetics look blue while copper in metal appears bronze? In the human body, copper moves between the cuprous (copper (I) or Cu 1+) form and the cupric (copper (II) or Cu 2+) form. Copper (II) is the form of copper that induces tissue regeneration and skin repair. It gives a blue color in water and a blue-to-green color when formulated into creams, lotions, and solutions. Copper (I) has no tissue regenerative or skin-repair activity and is colorless in water.
HOW MUCH COPPER DO YOU NEED?
Most nutritionists recommend a daily copper dosage that ranges from 1 to 3 mg, but there is no certainty to this number. Many scientists who study copper and its health benefits take 4 mg daily. Studies in humans have found that daily supplemental copper, ranging from 4 to 7 mg, promotes positive actions, such as reducing damaging cellular oxidation, lowering LDL levels, and increasing HDL levels. Such high intakes may reduce the risk of some degenerative diseases, but nutritionists also recommend not exceeding 10 mg of copper daily.
Copper deficiency diseases follow the pattern of major degenerative diseases in the U.S. Thus, copper provides preventative benefits for all conditions with only one exception: copper should not be taken if one has Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic condition that affects 1,600 people in the U.S.
Something to consider is that copper works synergistically with other minerals and nutrients. Copper needs to be taken in the proper ratio with zinc and other minerals like iron in order to maximize absorption. Since copper and zinc compete for uptake in the body, a high copper intake reduces zinc absorption, and, conversely, a high zinc intake reduces copper absorption. Thus, a balance should be maintained between these two metals. The best guess is to take a ratio of seven parts zinc to one part copper. In addition to supplements, you can boost your daily intake of copper by eating tasty copper-rich foods. These include seafood, shellfish, nuts, seeds, beans, whole-grain breads, cocoa, and chocolate.
Uptake of Copper from Copper Peptide Topicals
Very little copper from copper peptide products penetrates the skin. Charged molecules, including copper and peptides, do not readily permeate the skin barrier. Numerous safety studies of copper peptide products have failed to find a rise in blood copper or any other negative action.
So do not worry about factoring the copper from copper peptide products into your daily copper intake. If you were to use two grams of copper peptide product daily that contained 2 mg of copper, assuming the skin uptake was at 0.1 percent penetration, this would introduce only about 0.002 mg of copper into your body.
How much copper can we expect to actually penetrate our skin? This question was recently answered by renowned professor of dermatology Howard Maibach at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. According to the findings of his study, if a 0.68% aqueous solution of GHK-copper stays on the skin for 48 hours, then about 0.13 mg of copper will pass through the skin (Hostynek 2010 and 2011).
The amount of copper that can penetrate the skin from cosmetics is even less and is just enough to restore balance in the skin’s copper metabolism, without incurring any risk of upsetting it.
It has been shown that GHK-Cu exhibits its beneficial actions at a very low concentration (as low as 10-9-10-10 M). That explains why topical products containing copper peptides are so efficient in restoring the skin’s health and beauty.
Copper vs. GHK-Cu
If copper has so many beneficial actions on its own, why do we need GHK? Copper is a very active element and as such it has to be handled carefully.
Think about fire. When it burns on a stovetop or in the fireplace, it brings warmth and life. But this same fire burning freely in a house brings destruction. Now think of electricity. When it is safely contained within electrical wires, it can work for us, lighting our houses and powering our appliances. But this same electricity in a form of a lightning bolt can be deadly. Even oxygen, this indispensable element of life, can be dangerous and toxic.
Copper is similar. Even though copper salts are often used to supplement copper without any side effects, it is still better to have it enter the body in the form of “bio- copper” or “innocuous copper”, which is copper (II) bound to a protein/peptide. This is the form of copper that you will typically find in foods and the type of copper found in most copper peptides.
In the human organism there is very little free ionic copper (estimated 10-18 molar), approximately one copper ion per cell. Nearly 95% of copper in plasma is bound to ceruloplasmin, however this copper is not readily available.
Of more importance is the portion of copper that is bound to albumin, because it constitutes labile, metabolically active copper. A very small amount of metabolically active copper is exchanged between plasma and tissues in form of low molecular weight copper complexes. A complex network of copper “chaperones” (carriers and receptors) ensures the safe exchange of copper between plasma and tissues disease as well as copper delivery into the cells. Any extra copper entering the body is instantly interiorized, packaged, and safely distributed. The same proteins that ensure targeted and safe copper delivery detoxify excess copper (Cabrera et al 2008, Boal & Rosenzweig 2009).
Today our knowledge about this wonderfully complex system of copper delivery and regulation is still very limited. But from clinical observations and animal experiments, we can conclude that copper (either in foods that naturally contain copper or in the form of GHK-Cu) is the most safe, beneficial and smart way to deliver copper to your skin.
Should I Worry About Copper Excess?
One of the fascinating things about copper is the precision with which this essential mineral is regulated in the body. In one study of copper transport in the blood, scientists tried to create an elevated level of copper in plasma, injecting dogs and healthy human volunteers with high doses of copper. To their amazement, all excess copper magically disappeared from the blood shortly after injection!
For example, 50 mg of copper injected in healthy human volunteers (which amounts to 25 times the recommended 2 mg of copper a day) completely cleared from the blood in just 4 hours (Gubler et al 1953).
In experimental settings, researchers gave healthy volunteers 4-8 mg of copper a day for 1 to 3 months without any adverse effects. Due to the efficient mechanism of copper homeostasis, even this high dosage didn’t change the plasma concentration (Harvey et al 2003, Turnlund et al 2005).
In a multicenter European study performed in 2000, researchers investigated the effect of extra copper on oxidative processes in the blood cells of middle aged people. Again, they were amazed that even 7 mg/day of copper taken during the 6 week period did not produce any increase in oxidative damage. On the contrary, it improved anti- oxidant defense (Rock et al 2000).
The only dietary source of copper that a person should worry about is in contaminated water, since it supplies inorganic copper not bio-complexes of copper. If you drink water that contains 4-8 mg of copper per liter as your only water source for several weeks, you may experience nausea and other gastric symptoms. However, such problems occur only in Third World countries, where water quality is low. In the United States drinking water does not contribute much to copper intake (Araya et al 2001).
As you can see, our bodies are well equipped with a system of copper balancing proteins and peptides that regulate copper absorption and elimination, swiftly correcting copper excess. Even though copper toxicity may occur (if we ingest too much copper salts or drink copper-loaded water or work in the copper industry), for the majority of us, the issue of copper deficiency is much more worrisome than that of copper excess.
More Support for a Copper-Rich Diet
The copper-containing protein copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD) provides the primary antioxidant defense in the human body. Animals with higher levels of CuZnSOD have longer lifespans. However because humans usually have a short supply of copper (II), CuZnSOD has only about 50 percent of the copper it needs (zinc supplies are usually adequate). This shortage markedly reduces CuZnSOD’s antioxidant powers and presents yet another reason why a higher level of dietary copper benefits our health.
While CuZnSOD requires two metals, copper and zinc, only copper seems to regulate the antioxidant activity. Restricting dietary copper quickly impairs the catalytic function of CuZnSOD in numerous tissues. However, when we supplement our diets with copper, our CuZnSOD activity is quickly restored (Harris 1992).
Animal studies have found that a reduced copper intake increases cellular oxidation which promotes a wide variety of the types of degenerative diseases associated with aging. On the other hand, higher dietary copper reduces cellular oxidation.
Confusion Over Copper and Disease
Of all the copper in our blood serum, only a small fraction is metabolically active. We can find ninety-five percent of active copper in the antioxidant protein ceruloplasmin. During stress or illness, the body increases ceruloplasmin levels as a protective antioxidant mechanism. Because metabolically active copper is technically difficult to measure, most copper and disease studies report only the level of copper in the blood serum. This often leads to false conclusions as to the role copper plays in disease states (Sorenson 1985, Sorenson 1987, Sorenson 1989, Frieden 1986, Sorenson et al 1989).
For example, total blood plasma copper elevates during diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis, but this increase is due to increased ceruloplasmin in the blood. Some misinformed individuals have interpreted this increase in blood copper as an indication that a high level of copper causes disease.
But when copper supplements are given to animals and humans, the additional dietary copper has been found to lower carcinogenesis and tumor growth, inhibit the development of cardiovascular problems, and reverse many arthritic effects. So let us now take a closer look at how copper impacts various health conditions.
Copper and Cancer
The Center for Disease Control states that copper has not been shown to cause cancer in people or animals. In fact, evidence mounts daily revealing copper’s ability to help fight cancer.
As an example, let us consider colon cancer, the second most deadly form of cancer in the U.S. APC, a gene known to suppress the formation of tumors, mutates during the development of colon cancer. Individuals possessing these mutations develop numerous intestinal polyps (precancerous lesions). A species of mice that has a mutation similar to APC was studied. As with APC, the mutation causes intestinal polyps and colon cancer. Nutritionist Cindy D. Davis of the Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota found that when these mice were fed a copper-deficient diet (20 percent lower than normal), they developed a significantly higher incidence of small intestine tumors and mass than mice fed adequate dietary copper. Davis says these results have important implications because 80 percent of the population in the United States does not ingest adequate amounts of copper (Davis & Johnson 2002).
Copper complexes cause some types of cancer cells to revert to non-cancerous growth patterns. John R. J. Sorenson of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and colleagues treated rats which had solid tumors with various copper complexes (such as copper salicylate) and found that this treatment decreased tumor growth and increased survival rates. While these copper complexes did not kill cancer cells, they often caused them to revert to the growth patterns of normal (differentiated) cells.
In another study, Sorenson found that numerous copper complexes with superoxide dismutase activity retarded the spontaneous development of cancers in mice (Oberley et al 1984). Copper stimulates the production of the tumor-suppressor protein p53, which inhibits the growth of tumors in the body (Greene et al 1987, Narayanan et al 2001). See references.
Copper and Cardiovascular Disease
If we want a healthy heart, we need to control our good and bad cholesterol. That’s where copper comes to the rescue. Human and animal studies demonstrate that copper deficiency increases plasma cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure while decreasing “good” HDL cholesterol, thus increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease (Klevay 1987; Klevay & Halas 1991; Klevay 1996, 2000A, 2000B, 2002, 2004).
Investigators have found that copper complexes can minimize damage to the aorta and heart muscle following myocardial infarction. Severe copper deficiency results in heart abnormalities and damage (cardiomyopathy) in some animals (Trumbo et al 2001).
A multi-center study found that copper supplementation of 3 to 6 mg daily increased the resistance of red blood cells to damaging oxidation, indicating that relatively high intakes of copper do not increase the susceptibility of LDL or red blood cells to oxidation (Rock et al 2000). Rats on a copper-deficient diet had a decrease in aortic integrity that produced eventual aneurysm (Greene et al 1987).
Copper and Immune System Function
In order to prevent disease, we need to boost our immune system to fight off those pesky germs such as viruses, bacteria and parasites. Copper can help. A medical publication in 1867 reported that, during the Paris cholera epidemics of 1832, 1849, and 1852, workers exposed to copper salts did not develop cholera. Immune impairment can be detected as early as one week after the start of a diet low in copper; conversely, the addition of adequate copper rapidly reverses the immune suppression within one week (Bala & Failla 1992).
The immune system turned out to be so sensitive to copper deficiency that decreased function of immune cells is now considered an accurate indicator of marginal copper deficiency (Bonham et al 2002). Human and animal studies show that copper deficiency lead to low interleukin 2, decreased proliferation of T-cells and reduced number of neutrophils. In addition, even marginal copper deficiency affects neutrophil’s ability to ingest and kill microorganisms such as Candida albicans (yeast infection of the skin). Similar changes can be detected in macrophages (Percival 1998).
Animals deficient in copper have an increased susceptibility to bacterial pathogens such as salmonella and listeria (Bala & Failla 1992). A study of 11 infants with copper deficiencies found that the ability of their white blood cells to engulf pathogens increased after one month of copper supplementation (Heresi et al 1985). Adult men on a low-copper diet (0.66 mg of copper a day for 24 days, and then 0.38 mg a day for another 40 days) showed a decreased ability of their mononuclear cells to respond to antigens (Kelley et al 1995). Abnormally low numbers of white blood cells are a clinical indicator of copper deficiency in humans and the functionality of macrophages decreases in even marginally copper-deficient rats (Babu & Failla 1990, Bala & Failla 1992).
Copper and Arthritis
No one likes those achy joints that wake us up from blissful slumber. Copper can help minimize the painful inflammation. John R. J. Sorenson led the scientific groundwork for the use of copper complexes to treat arthritic and other chronic degenerative diseases. He found that copper complexes combined with more than 140 anti-inflammatory agents, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, to be far more active than these compounds without copper. Studies show copper aspirinate to be more effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis than aspirin alone. Studies also reveal that copper prevents or even cures the ulceration of the stomach often associated with aspirin therapy (Sorenson 1982).
In 1885, the French physician, Luton, effectively treated arthritic patients with a salve of hogs lard and 30 percent neutral copper acetate that he applied to the skin over affected joints. He also had his patients take pills containing 10 mg of copper acetate.
Studies of rheumatoid arthritis exemplify the paradox that has so confounded researchers regarding copper and its effects on various diseases. For example, between 1940 and 1970, patients with rheumatoid arthritis were found to have higher than normal serum copper levels. Similar results were discovered for various inflammatory diseases in both humans and animals. Yet, in seeming contradiction, copper complexes were successfully used to treat numerous conditions characterized by arthritic changes and inflammation.
Subsequent research concluded that an increase in serum copper is a physiological response to inflammation, rather than a cause of inflammation. The rise in copper is due to an elevation of the ceruloplasmin in serum, a protein with strong anti-inflammatory activity. Copper deficiency increases the severity of experimentally induced inflammation (Sorenson & Hangarter 1977, Sorenson 1977, Giampaolo et al 1982, Dollwet & Sorenson 1985, Sorenson 1988).
Recent studies found out that patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis are often copper deficient. According to dietary studies, they typically ingest too much fat and not enough fiber, zinc, magnesium and copper. Their consumption of copper was significantly lower than in a typical American diet (Kremer & Bigaouette 1996).
Copper and Mental Health
Brain tissue is exceptionally rich in copper and for a good reason. First, brain health and safety depends on the antioxidant enzyme Cu,Zn-SOD. This enzyme protects it against aggressive free radicals of oxygen, which brain cells—highly metabolically active cells—produce in abundance. Faulty SOD due to insufficient copper can have dire consequences, instantly increasing oxidative brain damage. Besides this, copper is essential for a number of other brain enzymes that are involved in the making of important nerve mediators and hormones (Lutsenko et al 2010).
Several neurological conditions have been associated with copper deficiency. Among them is Alzheimer’s disease that plagues not only America’s seniors, but recently has began to manifest itself at earlier and earlier ages: 40s-50s.
Copper’s role in Alzheimer’s has long puzzled researchers. In this condition there is focal accumulation of an amyloid beta protein, which traps copper and other metal ions. Only recently has it been discovered that copper deficient brains become prone to beta-amyloid accumulation (Hung et al 2009). Another study demonstrated that copper deficiency increased cell secretion of amyloid-beta. The exact mechanism of this paradox is not yet fully understood, but it is clear that copper deficiency may increase brain’s susceptibility to Alzheimer’s (Cater et al 2008). Today, there is more and more evidence that copper deficiency in the diet (as well as an excess of zinc) may be the leading cause of Alzheimer’s disease (Klevay 2008).
Another neurological symptom of copper deficiency is myelopathy or “human swayback”—a disease similar to that which occurs in sheep grazing on Australian soil lacking copper. Its symptoms include spastic gait or foot dragging and loss of coordination (Kumar 2006).
It is also interesting to note that neurological symptoms often follow bariatric surgery for obesity, which reduces absorption of copper in the intestine. These symptoms may range from neuropathy to encephalopathy and sometimes are irreversible (Kazemi et al 2010).
Copper and Osteoporosis
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones...or so the lyrics go. But who wants to end up with ‘dem dry bones’ if they can help it? Dry brittle bones or osteoporosis is nothing to sing about. However the good news is that copper contributes to healthy bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
Two hundred years ago, the German physician Rademacher established that copper supplements accelerated healing of broken bones in his patients. Inadequate dietary copper causes osteoporosis in humans and numerous animal species. Copper deficiency is also associated with scoliosis, skeletal abnormalities, and increased susceptibility to fractures. Too little dietary copper lowers bone calcium levels.
A study of elderly subjects found a decreased loss of bone-mineral density from the lumbar spine after copper supplementation of 3 mg daily for two years. Healthy adult males on a low-copper intake (0.7 mgs daily) for six weeks exhibited an increased rate of bone breakdown (Dollwet & Sorenson 1988, Conlan et al 1990, Janas et al 1993, Baker et al 1999).
Ulcer Healing Activities of Copper Complexes
Gastric ulcers are no fun—especially when they give you a stomach ache and kill the pleasure of a hot spicy meal. So next time, add some copper rich oysters and perhaps you’ll ward off ulcers.
Studies demonstrate that copper complexes such as copper aspirinate and copper tryptophanate, markedly increased healing rate of gastric ulcers while non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and enefenamic acid, suppress ulcer healing. As a result, these copper complexes promote normal wound healing while at the same time retaining anti-inflammatory activity (Sorenson & Hangartes 1977, Sorenson 1977, Dollwet & Sorenson 1985, Sorenson 1988, Sorenson et al 1982, Alzuet et al 1994, Morgant et al 2000, Lemoine et al 2002, Viossat et al 2005).
Anti-Convulsant Activities of Copper Complexes
It is important to remember that the brain contains more copper than any other organ with the exception of the liver. This is where copper reserves are tapped into as it is needed by the body. This fact suggests that copper plays a role in brain functions.
Since humans and animals are prone to brain seizures when deficient in copper, studies have shown anti-convulsant drugs to more effectively prevent seizures when complexed with copper.
Copper and Pregnancy
In the 1930’s, at a sheep station in Western Australia, many newborn lambs lost their coordination, had difficulty standing, and subsequently died. Later it was determined that the pregnant sheep pastured on land that produced grass with a minimal copper content. The grass did not provide sufficient copper for the lambs to develop their normal nervous systems and brains.
Research at the US Department of Agriculture’s Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center found that even marginal copper deficiency in pregnant rats produces brain damage and neurological defects in their offspring.
The copper deficient newborn rats have structural abnormalities in the areas of the brain involved in learning and memory and those responsible for coordination and movement. These abnormalities resulted in behavioral changes; for example, the young rats lacked the normal startle reflex as a response to unexpected noises. The copper deficit permanently affected the young rats and could not be corrected by a high-copper diet.
Another study reported that copper deficiency during pregnancy can result in numerous gross structural and biochemical abnormalities, which seem to arise because the copper deficiency reduces free radical defense mechanisms, connective tissue metabolism, and energy production (Ebbs et al 1941, Morten et al 1976, Keen et al 1998, Lonnerdal 1998, Hawk et al 2003, Penland & Prohaska 2004).
Copper Curbs Protein Glycation that AGEs Your Skin
The next time you enjoy a hot smoky steak off the grill, do be aware that you may be aging your skin. Protein glycation, one of the most devastating changes that crops up as we age, occurs when sugar attaches to protein. When you cook meat at high temperatures, a “cross linking” process occurs between the sugar and protein which can lead to stiff brittle skin. As we discussed in an earlier chapter, this process produces a less functional protein. Oxidants can further modify these glycated proteins into “advanced glycation products.” These aging products are aptly referred to as AGEs. AGEs not only age our skin, they also cause degenerative diseases such as Diabetes and Alzheimer’s. An increased copper intake has been found to reduce protein glycation (Saari et al 1995).
The Copper / Stem Cell Paradox
As we seek the key to longevity, stem cells may unlock the doorway to extending lifespan and youthfulness. Could stem cells provide the new wave for organ repair with copper playing catalyst to this process? You bet! One way to repair organ damage that accumulates with age is to introduce stem cells into defective organs. A lack of stem cells causes tissue to deteriorate while increased copper may lead to new stem cells.
Scientists concur that low levels of copper stimulate new stem cells. However, a high level of copper causes them to progress into differentiated cells. So on this basis, we would predict that dietary copper that produces low tissue copper would help avoid organ damage. But here’s the stem cell paradox: evidence also shows low tissue copper to be associated with degenerative diseases.
How, then, do we resolve this seeming contradiction? Well, it may be that the decline of stem cells results from not having enough available copper to push stem cells into the various types of differentiated cells that organs require. Recent work by Rao, Hattiangady, and Shetty on the aging of brain tissue in rats found that the stem cells in aging brains are not reduced in number, but there is a reduction in their conversion into neurons (Rao et al 2006). It is possible that additional GHK-Cu would convert more unused stem cells into differentiated cells needed to repair and maintain organs.
Fight Inflammation and Aging
As we learned in Chapter 18, inflammation can wreak havoc on your body and appearance—accelerating disease and aging of your skin. We can fight inflammation with copper peptides. These healing copper molecules can repair skin health and treat the inflammatory diseases of aging. I am often told by individuals that copper peptides reduce or sometimes eliminate psoriatic lesions. One theory is that conditions such as psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and Crohn’s disease are caused by an excess of TNF-alpha, (the tumor necrosis factor involved in inflammation). Since GHK-Cu suppresses TNF-alpha, a low level of GHK (that allows an increased expression of TNF-alpha) may trigger the outbreaks of such conditions and increase inflammatory diseases.
It appears we can use GHK-Cu to biologically repair a variety of issues. As we described earlier in the book, the process of repair begins with a controlled amount of damage. We already know that the molecule helps damage skin, dysfunctional hair follicles, the gastrointestinal tract, the liver, and the bones, but it may also have the ability to repair many other tissues and organs as well. For example, GHK-Cu is very beneficial on kidney and lung organ cultures. Other areas of interest include damaged nerve tissue, inflamed lungs, and knee and hip joints. Some people with gum problems tell me they brush their teeth with copper peptides and have excellent results.
Fibrotic kidney disease may be caused by low GHK levels. The increased incidence of kidney fibrosis that comes with age results from the excessive production of scar-forming TGF-beta-1. TGF beta controls proliferation, differentiation, and other functions in most cell types. Experimental therapies that lower TGF-beta-1 by genetically increasing endogenous levels of anti-inflammatory proteins called decorin or by direct administration of decorin have blocked kidney damage in rat models. GHK- Cu suppresses TGF-beta-1 and increases decorin synthesis. When levels of GHK-Cu drop too low, this may encourage an increase of TGF-beta-1 and diminish levels of decorin, which blocks TGF-beta-1 actions. One day, GHK-Cu might be infused into patients with kidney failure to exert its tissue protective and repair actions.
Does the Copper in Wine Help the French Live Longer?
The French enjoy fine wine, fine dining and live long happy lives. It is indeed a ‘French Paradox’ that they have healthy hearts while enjoying buttery croissants, Bernaise sauce and mouth watering Duck A L’Orange—all dripping with artery-clogging fats. As we discussed earlier, wine contains reservatrol which can prevent cholesterol plaque from forming.
However, here is yet another reason why red wine might contribute to French longevity. Red wine contains an abundance of copper. The copper in wine comes from the skin of the grapes which retain copper from the sulfates used by French vintners. Red wine from France contains about 0.2 mg of copper per liter.
So go pour yourself a glass from the wine fountain of youth. Isn’t it nice to know you may be sipping your way to a longer life?
Copper and Love
This magic molecule not only provides a door to the future but also offers a window to the past. Ancients believed in copper’s power to heal. They wrote that copper was the metal of healing and of love. Throughout this chapter, we have assessed the healing properties of copper—the power of this metal elixir. However according to ancients, copper not only heals, it is also the metal of love. Is this mythology? Maybe not. Today’s research has confirmed that copper attracts the molecules that make us feel euphoric pleasure by releasing endorphins. Chemically speaking, love translates into endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and other brain chemicals. Increased tissue copper has been found to increase brain enkephalins (Bhathena et al 1986). Sorenson determined that copper complexes reduce pain and may activate opioid receptors (Okuyama et al 1987).
Not surprisingly, copper deficiency (even if marginal) can alter the balance of brain chemicals. When healthy males were fed a low copper diet (1 mg/day) for 11 weeks, their plasma opiates level dropped by 80%. As soon as copper was restored (with a diet containing 3 mg/day), it returned to normal (Bhathena et al 1986).
Copper not only contributes to euphoric attraction, it can also play a part in sustaining relationships. During early stages of romantic love, the blood level of NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) nearly doubles. It was also apparent that those who reported the most intense feelings also had the highest NGF levels. But NGF then declines over a years time as passion cools. In wound models, GHK-Cu increases production of NGF.
In addition to feel-good endorphins and NGF levels enhanced by copper, sexual hormones can also boost our sex drives. The hormone DHEA works well with copper to both increase our interest in sex and to lower stress. DHEA converts into the sexual hormones, testosterone and estrogen, which not only promote sex drive but protect against the damaging actions of cortisol. DHEA levels sharply decrease with age while cortisol remains relatively constant. Too much cortisol can result in physical problems and stress related illnesses. The combination of too much stress and decreased sexual hormones can dampen our mood for romance. DHEA is widely used as a dietary supplement to help prevent deleterious changes that occur with age. Klevay and Christopherson found that copper deficiency in rats decreased DHEA in serum by approximately 50 percent. The researchers suggest that eating a higher-copper diet increases the DHEA level in the body (Klevay & Christopherson 2000).
So what about the Metal of Love? While an endorphin-induced sense of euphoric pleasure, coupled with feeling less stress and high personal sexual hormones, may not be love, it is still a good approximation.
ANCIENT IDEAS RISE AGAIN
The ancient love affair with copper continues to this day. Modern Spiritualists, like those of thousands of years ago, have reignited their passion for copper’s energy into a spiritual evolution. As with most of their beliefs, Spiritualists have taken the true scientific property of a mineral and made it fit their own structure. Because copper conducts electricity and heat, copper is also the conduit of the Spiritualist’s belief system.
According to their myths, copper holds the ability to steer spiritual energy back and forth from individuals, crystals, auras, the mind and the spirit world. They also believe in the power of copper to amplify thoughts, to receive and send psychic communication and they use this energy to channel hoaxes throughout the world.
New Age followers carry these metals with their stones and crystals to “straighten” the properties when creating crystal wands to connect with spirits, and for channeling spirits and increasing cosmic awareness. Thus today’s Spiritualists find copper to play an essential role in their physical and mental healing rites.
The copper elixir that has ignited our past, will continue to burn far into the future as scientists, Spiritualists, and lovers seek to live a blissful future filled with health, beauty and inner fulfillment.